Our Own Public Idaho: Part Two

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It is no exaggeration to say the best thing—in my darker moods, I would say the only thing—Idaho has to offer the rest of the universe are the publically owned lands within our borders. Sixty-percent of Idaho’s total area, over 32-million acres, is administered by either the National Forest Service, or the Bureau of Land Management. Another 5-to-10 percent (depending on which web site you believe) is, or was, in state hands.

This wealth of public lands has made Idaho a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers of all tastes, from the cross country skier to the kayaker, the elk hunter to the hiker, the birder to the rock hound. I suspect even most native Idahoans wouldn’t think of Idahoans were “Idaho” to pop up in a word association test. We understand that whatever positivity is associated with “Idaho” comes with the land, not so much the people.

And for good reason. Our politics are abysmal, being controlled almost exclusively by some of the most reactionary and thick-headed Republicans to be found outside the lingering Confederacy down Dixie-way. Our people are, with tragically few exceptions, woefully average. Our fawning adulation of any exceptional individuals who may attract some level of national attention by rising above the prevailing mediocrity here-abouts often reaches the ridiculous and embarrassing.

And as to how we function in the larger society, “below par” is a far-too-kindly characterization of the general Idaho condition, given the dismal ratings we earn in everything from education to medium income, from suicide rates to gun deaths.

Yet Idahoans in the political majority still cling proudly to the notion they are somehow wiser, more patriotic and righteous than all those others—the ones with better educations, higher incomes, healthier lifestyles and more reasonable politics.

This baselessly smug arrogance—together with an influx of rabidly evangelical morons determined to turn much of the inland northwest into a monochrome (re: white) theocracy—has made Idaho the ideal hothouse in which to nurture the latest gimmickry to come out of conservative think tanks and corporate pressure groups—i.e. ALEC, Americans for Prosperity, and anything else with the Koch DNA slathered on it. It is easy, and cheap, to buy politicians here. Generally speaking, you get one or two legislators in your pocket and the rest follow along like hungry dogs who smell bacon.

The largely covert privatization of public school has been well underway for almost two decades in Idaho, in spite of it being opposed by parents, teachers, and virtually everyone that doesn’t have a financial interest in accessing state funds by peddling knowledge in a corporate package. And in spite of glaring failures, corruption and incompetence in the realms of private prisons, contracts to provide broadband coverage, and charter school after charter school, the our tax dollars keep flying out the window for things we neither want or asked for, thanks to state policy makers who can literally get away with anything short of goat buggery without losing their offices.

But the biggest travesty of all is yet to come—the loss what we hold most dear about our state. It’s nothing new that those sorts of people to whom the limitless acquisition of limitless wealth is their raison d’etre—to whom everything else (i.e., beauty, spirituality, nature and even access to nature) are merely means to that end—are interested in getting their paws on public lands. But lately, the urge to land grab has been explosive. Perhaps it’s because there are so many more ultra-wealthy financial aristocrats these days than there used to be, thanks to pamper-the-rich Reaganomics and the groveling obsequiousness of the modern Republican Party to these pirate lords of the free-market sea.

And perhaps it’s because the pirate lords are running out of stuff to buy, since they own the lion’s share of everything else already.

Whatever the reason, agents for the plutocracy have been encouraging legislatures and governors in the backward states (Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and of course, Idaho) to push and prod and needle the federal government into handing our public lands legacy over to them—the very officials most deeply beholding to the plutocrats for their political existence. Should there be any doubt in anyone’s mind what would become of that legacy should the Feds cave and relinquish it to the sort of special interest pimps that define the way policy is decided in Idaho, they need look no further than what has become of that land that was bequeathed to the state at the advent of statehood.

When Idaho became a full member in the union—only 125 years ago; just a blink of the eye in the life of a forest or high desert—state officials were left to administer the remainder of the territory that hadn’t already been developed. Of those lands entrusted (in 1890) to the new state of Idaho, 41-percent has already been sold off into private hands. Since the year 2000 alone, 100,000 acres have been taken out of the public domain.

Had not so much of our attentions been tuned to the president race this election season, Idahoans might have paid more attention to what, I am convinced, is likely to be the pivotal year in the fate of Idaho’s and the nation’s remaining public lands. The contrast between Those Democrats running for Congress and those Republican incumbents could not be more stark.

James Piotrowski, running for the seat so corrupted by Raul Labrador, has made it clear his primary interest is to preserve the “public” part of public lands, while Labrador belongs to that Tea Party brand of conservatism whose tactic is to convince stupid people that it would be in their best interest to give up what is theirs (e.g., access to organized labor, public educations, livable wages, and last but not least, public lands).

Pretty much the same can be said of the contest between Jerry Sturgill and Mike Crapo. Incumbent Crapo will twist with whichever wind fills his campaign coffers, while Sturgill is running largely on a pro-public lands issue.

It is clear Idaho Democrats have realized this is their issue, preserving public lands, and I for one couldn’t be more pleased. As I indicated Friday, this should be considered THE dominant issue for Idaho liberals and progressives, along with all Idaho sportsmen, recreationists and lovers of nature, of whatever political inclination. In spite of the state legislature and the Congressional delegation being infested with those who would turn Idaho into Texas, the great majority of Idahoans want public lands kept public.

Unfortunately, trying to convince Idaho Republican voters of anything that might contradict what their party is telling them has usually been an exercise in futility. It must be what cowpokes would have experienced when trying—unsuccessfully—to stop the herd they were poking from stampeding off a cliff.

And there are not enough Idaho Democrats to do it on their own. Which is why it will be increasingly important to look outside of Idaho for support, for advocates, allies and alliances. After all, these lands in question don’t belong to Idahoans exclusively. They are the wealth of an entire nation, and it is vital that the nation understands, and resists, the movement to take what is theirs and turn it into a commodity.

The preservation of public lands must become much more than an Idaho issue. It must be an American issue, in which the like-minded from Utah and Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho combine with the like-minded from Connecticut and Virginia and Kansas and everywhere to thwart this thievery before the thieves’ empty promises become empty reality.

In the immediate future, we must give Piotrowski and Sturgill as much support as possible to give them a chance to unseat the pimps. But in the longer run, the Republican who has already declared he will run for governor in two years, Russ Fulcher, has announced his mission is to snatch these treasures from the federal government. In a guest opinion in the local daily last summer, he spoke of how “inevitable” it is that Idaho’s public lands will end up under the management of state officials, once the federal agencies of the Forest Service and the BLM have vilified and discredited. Of course, he didn’t mention that this vilification is being organized and promoted by the very forces hovering like vultures to take ownership.

Not incidentally, Fulcher is a commercial real estate developer—surprise—when he isn’t using his position as a legislator to enhance his business prospects.

In Friday’s post, I started this off by declaring I was an Idaho guy, through and through, and I meant it proudly. I am proud of this state, in spite of how much there is about Idaho not to be proud of. More often than not, we are a smallish people who considtently choose smallish leaders—leaders for whom venality is a virtue and greed is next to godliness.

For those of us who feel, if there is indeed anything godly about Idaho, it resides in those grand mountains and forests, the lonely deserts and lively rivers. We must do whatever we can to preserve that trust. Decisions are about to be made that will still be reverberating when our grandchildren are grandparents, and beyond. It is our duty to pass our pride onto them, and believe me, that pride will not come from a landscape devastated by a few possessing what all possessed before.

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